Although this year’s Latin Grammy celebration was loaded with high-profile guests and action-packed performances, the ceremony largely adhered to what we’ve come to expect from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. The three-hour telecast was long and overdrawn, offering just a sprinkling of surprises, and the winners seemed to indicate a shift back toward classic and traditional sounds, despite the popularity of urbano music in recent years.
While trap and reggaeton have been dominating the industry, the Academy has long overlooked this new order — and last night, most of the major honors went to artists outside of the urbano genre. Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler walked away with the most golden statues, while Mexican artist Luis Miguel came out of left field and secured the coveted Album of the Year award. Despite predictions that J Balvin would sweep the 2018 ceremony, the Colombian reggaeton artist took home only one award when his groundbreaking release Vibras won as 2018’s Best Urban Music Album. Meanwhile, the Academy filed Maluma’s F.A.M.E. under Best Contemporary Pop, but gave Karol G some overdue recognition with a Best New Artist award. Bad Bunny and Ozuna — both game-changing artists who have had incredible mainstream success in the last few months — both turned up empty.
The event, which was somewhat underwhelming overall, also included tributes to rock band Maná, awkward booing from the audience, and a gospel-inspired version of “Estamos Bien” by a sparkly Bad Bunny. If you didn’t catch the telecast, here’s what you missed:
The night belonged to Jorge Drexler.
Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler has been a perennial Latin Grammy darling, having scored about 20 nominations since 2005. He swept some of last night’s biggest categories, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year (he also took the award for Singer-Songwriter Album of the Year.) Drexler isn’t the most radical choice, but he does embody the Academy’s taste for crisp, classic, and acoustic-leaning pop.
Drexler proved “Telefonía’s” worth when he performed a delicately arranged version of the song alongside fellow singer-songwriters Natalia Lafourcade, Mon Laferte, and David Aguilar — a power combination that made for one of the prettiest (but subdued) performances of the night. The show’s producers were all about this kind of classic live set, pairing Carlos Vives and Monsieur Periné’s Catalina García together for “Hoy Tengo Tiempo” and setting time for 15-year-old regional artist Ángela Aguilar to give us her take on “La Llorona.”
Will Smith, Bad Bunny, and Marc Anthony joined forces for a wild and wacky collaboration.
The show opened with an out-of-breath Tío Will Smith, who tried to rap while racing over to meet Marc Anthony onstage for a rendition of their already-kind-of-perplexing collab “Está Rico.” Luckily, Bad Bunny swooped in midway and helped pick up the energy with an army of bunny-eared dancers and plenty of exploding lights.
Will Smith wasn’t the only English-language act at the ceremony. Halsey dropped by to sing with Colombian artist Sebastián Yatra; Steve Aoki performed with Nicky Jam; and Diplo, Kane Brown, and Dillon Francis all presented awards.
Luis Miguel made things awkward by skipping the show.
The Album of the Year category was stacked with 2018 favorites — J Balvin’s Vibras, Natalia Lafoucade’s Musas 2, Jorge Drexler’s Salvavidas De Hielo — so it came as a shock when the big win went to Luis Miguel’s ranchera album ¡México Por Siempre! Unfortunately, Luis Miguel wasn’t actually there to pick up his golden statue, and his absence elicited loud, resounding boos from the audience. Thalia, who presented the nominations, tried to save the moment by volunteering to bring the award to him, but the whole thing resulted in an uncomfortable cringe session. The crowd had a similar reaction after Daddy Yankee — another no-show — won the Best Urban Song award for “Dura.”
Ozuna went acoustic for “El Farsante,” while Balvin and Carla Morrison combined their powers onstage.
Reggaeton golden boy Ozuna offered a more sensitive side with a stripped-back version of “El Farsante,” but quickly reminded us he could still turn up. As soon as he finished the song, he fired into an explosive rendition of “Única,” complete with fiery pyrotechnics and glowing neon lights. It was one of the few times the spotlight went to the Puerto Rican-Dominican artist; despite having a record-breaking year, he was only nominated in once in the category of Best Urban Music Album, and he lost to Balvin.
Later, J Balvin opened his performance with Carla Morrison, the beloved Mexican indie artist who he featured in the first track on Vibras. Morrison showed off her brand of ethereal vocals before Balvin grabbed the reins and launched into “Ambiente,” which he sang over a silvery set that reminded us of that shimmery thing from Annihilation.
Maná became the first group to win the Latin Recording Academy’s “person of the year” award.
Maná received the Person of the Year award, becoming the first group in history to achieve the honor. Band members Fher Olvera, Sergio Vallín, Alex González, and Juan Calleros celebrated by thanking longtime fans for decades of support and performing a medley of their hits from the last 30-plus years, which, as you can imagine, made for one lengthy set.
Norteño music surprised everyone with an unexpected tie.
Academy voters couldn’t seem to decide on a Best Norteño Album this year, so, in a rare move, they picked two winners. Sinaloan conjunto Calibre 50 and regional band Grupo Pesado all came onstage together and shared the joint victory.
Bad Bunny took us to church in glittery denim.
Bad Bunny’s outfits of the night deserve a shrine somewhere. The first half of the evening included silver pants, a zebra shirt, and Stone Cold Steve Austin tie. But the look that really stole the show was a denim jacket, draped in glittery fringe, which Bad Bunny wore when he lit the stage on fire (literally) in one of the most energetic performances toward the end of the night. The Puerto Rican trap phenomenon roared through rock-tinged mixes of “Sensualidad,” “Soy Peor,” and “Chambea” before ending with his gem “Estamos Bien,” which he updated with a full gospel arrangement.
The only fashion moment that compared to El Conejo Malo occurred when Rosalía walked the red carpet in a dress fit for a queen or a quinceañera (or both). The Catalan artist had a solid night herself: She performed “Malamente,” her flamenco-inspired earworm that won awards for Best Urban/Fusion Performance and Best Alternative Song.